In a stunning about-face, the Australian Jewish News publicly apologised today regarding a recent controversial story that called for Rabbi Yosef Feldman's resignation from a senior rabbinic position.
On 29 July 2011, the AJN ran a front page story about Rabbi Yosef Feldman entitled "Top Rabbi Must Quit". In a related Article and Editorial, reference was made to a leaked internal email discussion amongst Rabbis in which Rabbi Yosef Feldman put forward certain views in relation to the reporting of child abuse allegations to the Authorities. The AJN interpreted those views in a negative light, berating Rabbi Feldman for suggesting them and calling for his resignation as President of the Rabbinical Council of NSW.
In today's edition, the AJN admits that since the publication of their first article many Rabbis "have since contacted us to confirm they regarded the comments as Halachic conjecture in the context of an academic debate" and in a Statement from the Executive of the Rabbinical Council of NSW, also published in today's edition, the Rabbis go further and assert that "The Executive Members of the Rabbinical Council of NSW, alongside many rabbis across Australia, are of the opinion that the views propounded in those emails were simply conjecture within the context of Halachic discussion and did not necessarily reflect Rabbi Yosef Feldman's personal opinion on those matters." The Rabbis express dismay at the AJN's "interpreting in an unflattering way selected quotes from those emails."
In today's lengthy article, authored by AJN National Editor Zeddy Lawrence, the newspaper refers to its original negative coverage and says that "we recognise and fully appreciate that there are those who felt we could have been less forthright and more sensitive in the way we covered it, and we apologise for any unnecessary distress caused."
"Newspapers are perceived as ignoring ethical and sometimes legal boundaries, in their quest to enthral readers and boost sales. It would be churlish of those of us in the industry to ignore that sentiment. Likewise, it would be churlish of The AJN in particular to turn a blind eye to the feelings of many members of the community about the manner in which we handled the story regarding Rabbi Yosef Feldman."
"In this instance, if there are those who feel we have been sensationalist, then we must take that lesson on board as we move forwards."
The newspaper compares Rabbi Feldman to respected Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth Lord Jonathan Sacks, concluding that "we wish Rabbi Feldman well in all his endeavours and look forward to reporting on his positive impact on the community in the months and years ahead."
As a result of the AJN's initial onslaught, Rabbi Feldman had stepped aside temporarily from his role as President of the Rabbinical Council of NSW, in order to clear his name. In today's Statement, the RCNSW Executive informs the community that he has resumed the Presidency, saying that "The RCNSW looks forward to the contribution that Rabbi Yosef Feldman will continue to make together with his Executive in his role as RCNSW President, which he has now resumed."
"It is a fact of human nature that 'sorry' is one of the hardest words to say. Bearing this in mind we warmly welcome the AJN's willingness to acknowledge that their coverage may have been sensational, as well as their apology for the unnecessary distress caused. In particular we laud its undertaking to thoroughly review the way matters of this nature are reported in the future as well as the acknowledgement of its Editor regarding the fine character of Rabbi Yosef Feldman and the significant contribution that he has made to the community."
Also published in today's AJN is a Letter to the Community by Rabbi Yosef Feldman in which he states that "I unreservedly and emphatically condemn all forms of abuse, particularly child abuse. Perpetrators must be brought to justice in the Australian legal system, and I condemn the suggestion that paedophiles deserve protection from that legal system. I believe, as asserted by the major Australian Beth Dins and reported in the AJN, that all credible allegations of abuse should immediately be reported to, and dealt with, by the appropriate Government Authorities."
Rabbi Feldman continues that "I believe that I was seriously misrepresented in material that was recently published by the AJN", nevertheless he concludes his Letter wishing the AJN well and thanking his "colleagues on the RCNSW Executive as well as many Rabbis in NSW and across Australia for their unstinting support in recent times."
"I am hopeful that we can all move forward in unity for the benefit of our community."
VERSION # 2
The AJN today acknowledged that its coverage may have been considered sensational and apologised for any unnecessary distress this caused.
By Zeddy Lawrence, National Editor of the AJN